Monday, November 4, 2013

School resource officers as problemsolvers

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2013 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge lesley_stedman_weidenbener_-_mug_-_the_statehouse_file.jpg
There are few things more traumatic or tragic than a school shooting, particularly when the killer is from the students' own ranks. And the United States has far too many of them.

Such events lead to calls for more school security and bans on guns and sometimes result in decisions that do littler more than just make us feel better.

But I think in Indiana, state officials have developed a program that should make students actually safer - and have other benefits as well. It doesn't ban guns and it doesn't arm teachers, which are two of the solutions the far left and far right are often seeking.

Instead, Indiana is putting its emphasis on funding school resource officers, which are typically retired or former police officers who do far more than just act as security guards.

This week, the state distributed $9 million in grants to schools all across the state, many of which will be used to fund these officers.

Part of a school resource officer's job, of course, is to coordinate traditional security. Having a formally trained cop in a building - who in most cases will be carrying a weapon - is a potential deterrent or even a foil for plots to attack students.

But the school resource officer is also an ear on the ground. A big part of the officer's job is to get to know students, learn about their problems and listen for issues that could develop into violence. The SROs - as they're typically called - are law enforcement officers first but also act as a counselor, adviser and educator.

The officers develop links with the community and seek resources to help students who need it.

Donald Schoeff, a resource officer at Carmel Elementary School, told earlier this year that he even checks police reports to see if any of the incidents involved students or their families. If so, he'll check on the student.

"I may sit and chat with someone and discuss what they've been through and what decisions they made," Schoeff said last spring.

It's an approach that allows officers to detect potential problems before they manifest in something as dramatic as school shooting or other type of violence.

But it's not a new approach. Some schools in Indiana have had resource officers in place for years. Others either haven't found the money to hire them or haven't made it a priority.

State lawmakers - acting on a recommendation from Attorney General Greg Zoeller - have made that easier. The General Assembly created the new grant program that allows schools with 1,000 or fewer students to apply for a matching grant of up to $30,000; schools with more students can apply for a grant of up to $50,000.

Schools can use the money to hire a resource officer or to pay for other security measures. And in the latest round of grants announced last week, many schools opted to use the money for the officers.

"Their presence in schools will serve to increase respect for law by students and also deter problems of bullying, weapons and drug abuse that must be addressed in schools every day," Zoeller said last spring.

That would be fantastic. The problems that threaten Hoosier students' safety may be least likely to come from a shooting or other high-profile violent act. Drug abuse, bullying and mental health issues are far more insidious problems and ones that a school resource officer - rather than an armed security guard - could likely do something about.

Lesley Weidenbener is editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.


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